Some people I’ve been chatting with about this issue of proactively bridging the gulf between the church and the community have been struck by the way it seems to reverse a something we’ve all had drummed into us. We’ve been told to try and trim non-missional programmes and minstries from our church ‘portfolios’. Like old, crusty donated furniture ministries have a way of hanging around well after their Used By date is past. (Think of the proverbial ‘mothers group’ consisting of septuagenerians.)
But it sounds like I’m talking about starting new programmes. Is this going to leave the church of the future with unwanted and irrelevant ministry ‘black-holes’?
I reckon we should learn to treat any ‘community connecting’ programmes we launch as experiments (Ah! I always knew that science degree would come in handy). Because like in good lab work we need to be both creative and critical.
In the lab, a good hypothesis explains the available evidence and makes predictions. Yet it’s a risky business. You do have to give a new hypothesis a good run — e.g., allowing that what looks like counter-evidence early on might have a good explanation once the hypothesis is more firmly established. But you also have to be honest (and robust) enough to concede that your hypothesis may have been falsified when the evidence stacks up against it. You have to be prepared for the experiment to fail.
In the same way I think we need to learn how to promote a culture of risk-taking as well as encouraging honest feedback. We’ll need to try new things if we’re to becoming a church of irresistible influence. But if something you try doesn’t work (or if what you’re already doing stops working), then admit it, celebrate your successes and wrap it up.
Of course, we’re not good at this in the church or the wider culture. We’re unaccustomed to being both creative and critical. What’s more it’s really hard to treat a ministry or programme you’ve started like a science experiment! Rightly, it means more to us than a mere hypothesis.
So, can you help? How do we do both?
Let’s pool our imaginative resources, and generate a list of a possible ways to foster both creativity and constructive criticism.